National Post

‘BatBerry’ an all-Canadian V8 Batmobile replica

February 28, 2013

Nick Tragianis interviews Tim Neil about the BatBerry project for the Driving section of the National Post.

Restoring something along the lines of a Ferrari 308 GTS, preparing a 1989 Mazda Miata for the racetrack or building a replica of a Lamborghini Countach are all viable choices for a weekend project car from the 1980s. Meanwhile, cars used in movies are usually limited to scale models sitting on a bookshelf or in a display cabinet.

Very rarely are the two combined, yet that is exactly what Tim Neil is doing in his spare time. By day, he works for BlackBerry (née Research In Motion) and application developers to deliver apps for the company.

By night the diehard Subaru fanatic works on a project more suited for the streets of Gotham City rather than Toronto. He calls it the BatBerry — an exact replica of the Batmobile used in Tim Burton’s Batman films.

For the past seven years, Mr. Neil has tinkered and tweaked his Subaru Impreza WRX in hopes of refining his wrenching skills to take on the project.

“[The Batmobile] told me … there’s just certain cars that strike a chord with you that you just like the way they’re designed,” he says. “I think all vehicles need to look like they’re angry and that they’ll eat a small child or something, and it has got that really sleek, low-to-the-ground [look]. It just looks like it means business.”

Mr. Neil used a 1991 Chevrolet Caprice as a chassis donor. In order to accurately represent the actual Batmobile, he extended the chassis to 20 feet. After spending nearly a year and a half working on the project, Mr. Neil says time has been the biggest challenge he’s faced.

“Most of the stuff is just trying to find the time to spend,” he says. “It’s one of those things you’d love to spend all your time on, but it’s the job that’s bringing in the money to pay for the work on it.”

Of course, there are smaller challenge’s he’s faced and solved with ease, including properly installing replica 30-calibre machine guns. While the initial installation went smoothly, they seemed to be pointing down at the car’s hood. To solve that problem, Mr. Neil simply cut the welds holding the guns in place and repositioned them to stop any Jokers, Banes, or Two Faces in their tracks.

Unlike the original Batmobile, the electronics of Mr. Neil’s BatBerry is powered by his cellphone. Thanks to his resources and experience at BlackBerry, the app he is developing for the car can adjust the suspension, open the canopy and deploy the replica weapons.

There will also be a BlackBerry PlayBook installed inside, with a database of Batman villains. Mr. Neil recalls the first time seeing the Batmobile during a Christmas morning spent at his cousin’s house, and being fascinated by the car being driven by Michael Keaton.

“I always liked cars as a kid, and being able to see the Batmobile doing all that cool stuff got my interest into Batman,” he says.

“There are Lamborghinis and other exotics that are cool and people look at them,” he says. “But at the same point, if you pull up in a Lamborghini and you’re beside the Batmobile, people are more intrigued by the Batmobile.”

He recalls one occasion last summer, during the Toronto Subaru Club’s yearly summer cruise known as HyperMeet. Mr. Neil took the BatBerry to the show and won the Best DIY (Do-it Yourself) award. Even in a half-assembled state wearing nothing but primer, it still managed to attract the most attention at the show and on the road, according to his BatBerry blog.

“But the best was driving behind the flat bed truck hauling the BatBerry and watching people’s reactions,” he wrote. “Cars swerving, almost running lights, cameras out sunroofs and windows and watching pedestrians do double and triple takes and pointing. It made lots of good dinner conversation for people who saw it on the road.”

As for the handiwork involved, Mr. Neil says the project is mostly a solo one, with the exception of the occasional hand from friends and family.

“I had some help from members of different car clubs come over and help sometimes with sanding or grinding or cutting, and my dad has come down to help me a little bit with the car,” he says. “But it’s my project where I relax. Work and everything just melts away when I go out into the garage.

“The problems of the car are my problems. They’re challenges versus frustrating things to work away.”

View the Original Article as posted in the Driving section of the National Post